Battaash fresh and in form for thrilling rematch with US ace Lady Aurelia
King's Stand Stakes favourite Battaash has freshened up well since his reappearance win at Haydock in the Temple Stakes, according to trainer Charlie Hills, who is looking forward to the rematch with Lady Aurelia and hoping he might have unearthed another Group 1 sprinter this year in Equilateral.
At this stage last year few were thinking of Battaash as a potential champion sprinter, but a hat-trick of blistering five-furlong wins propelled him fast through the ranks and by the time of York's Nunthorpe Stakes he was a strong fancy to lower the colours of Lady Aurelia, who had impressed in last year's King's Stand.
Battaash, a general 5-2 chance for Royal Ascot, boiled over that day, but redeemed himself with a sensational four-length defeat of Nunthorpe winner Marsha in the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp.
Plans for avoiding a repeat of what happened in the Nunthorpe have yet to be discussed in detail, but Hills pointed out that York is unique, in that it requires a long walk across the middle of the track from the racecourse stables to the saddling area. In addition, jockey Jim Crowley believes it suits Battaash better to go to the start last, rather than first, as he did at York.
Hills said: "I haven't done any fast work with him since Haydock, but he's come out of the race well and is nice and fresh. We're going to sit down next week to talk about how we're going to saddle him, but Ascot's not York and we'll probably just use one of the quieter boxes at the far end of the saddling area."
Crowley, who was riding at the Curragh when Battaash reappeared, added: "At York he went to post early and had a bad experience, but when I rode him in France we went down last and he was brilliant. I think he also went to post well the other day and I thought that was a good performance."
Runaway Doncaster novice winner Equilateral, for whom New Zealander James McDonald has been booked, is being aimed at the Commonwealth Cup, the first running of which Hills won in 2015 with Muhaarar. He has been a warm order in the last few days and is now disputing favouritism with Sioux Nation at 5-1 with Betfred, Coral and Ladbrokes.
Hills acknowledges Equilateral has a long way to go but is excited, and said: "It's a big step up to Group 1 level, but we've always thought a lot of him and he's a horse with plenty of size and scope and a great attitude.
"It was nice to see the Doncaster runner-up Foxtrot Lady win next time and it's good to have James coming over to ride him.
"He hasn't worked since Doncaster, but I've been very happy with him. He'll do a bit of work on Saturday and another probably next Wednesday."
The stable's other runners at Royal Ascot will include York winner Afaak, who is favourite for the Hunt Cup at a best-priced 12-1, Goodwood winner Mutawaffer, who is probably going to run in the Norfolk Stakes, and Lingfield course record-breaker Glory Fighter, who could have entries in the Windsor Castle and Coventry Stakes, as well as in the Norfolk.
Crowley is likely to ride Afaak and Mutawaffer for Hills in addition to Battaash, and also has other good mounts to look forward to.
He said: "We all know how hard it is to ride a winner at Royal Ascot, but besides Charlie's, I'm looking forward to riding Gabr in the St James's Palace Stakes – hoping he gets fast ground at last – and also the Brigadier Gerard second Laraaib in whatever race he runs in."
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